What to do with the “competent squatter”

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When hiring, everyone wants to find the eager, talented, ambitious and innovative candidate, but not every employee fits that bill. The worker who ticks all the boxes, but doesn’t go any further can also have their place in the right organization. 
This is the employee deemed the “competent squatter” by R.J. Morris, director of staffing at McCarthy Building Companies. 
“Good at the job, not moving anywhere. They are ‘at level’ and make that worse by not adding to their skill set. Ever. The squatter has never heard of the term ‘discretionary effort.’ Can you hire someone to come in, punch the clock and not much else? For me, I think companies can rarely afford it. Capacity and desire to grow are requirements in my mind,” Morris said. 
In some organizations the competent squatter could be a good person to have on a team, especially for larger companies and in roles with low requirements for innovation and high repetition, like records clerks. 
However, for many organizations having someone who won’t take initiative can potentially harm the team they’re on and the organization overall. This harm will be especially noticeable for start-ups and other small, fast paced organizations. 
“When we are honest with ourselves, we know not everyone can be whatever the latest euphemism is for a top performer,” Morris said. “Most of your team is closer to average than any of them want to admit. That does not mean, however, that you should tolerate complacency or low change-orientation.” 
In many cases effective performance management and the right incentives can help re-engage employees who are disconnected or coasting, but if someone is truly disinterested in contributing to the growth of their organization, HR should talk to that individual about what might interest them more and whether there is a different career path that organization can offer them that they will find more engaging.

  • Ann on 2014-06-09 10:51:58 AM

    "Competent squatter" -- what a nasty and contemptuous phrase for the majority of employees who are content at what they do, pleasant, competent, reliable and good team players.

    Not every employee needs to be ambitious. If an employee is disinterested or not performing, HR should and can deal with the problem. Frustrated ambition can lead to a bitter and discontented employee. There's not always the opportunity to move up. I'm not suggesting that training and "keeping current" aren't important. I'm suggesting that HR needs to recognize the importance of having good solid and reliable performers who may not have the potential or desire to perform up.

  • Joan on 2014-06-09 11:29:19 AM

    We have many of these workers in the government. My only issue with these type of workers is having to listen to them complain about competent and motivated people moving up in the organization. Those of us who go the extra because we feel 1.) we are lucky to have a good job and 2.) we feel privileged to work for the government and service the Public. 'Complacency' is a terrible thing.

  • Sharon on 2014-06-09 11:34:46 AM

    I have to agree with Ann- the reality of today's flattened organizations is that there isn't room for everyone to move up, and we need to be honest about that. I don't think that employees who stay in a position for a long period are necessarily disengaged, though some might be of course. Also, some organizations provide little incentive or support (financial or otherwise) to improve one's skills, and many employees can't do it on their own.

    We should also be mindful that some people are truly happy to be able to go to work every day knowing what's expected of them, and perform their tasks competently, reasonably stress-free, and without always worrying about "what's next".

  • KB on 2014-06-09 11:45:28 AM

    @Ann.. I completely agree with everything you have said. Many workers, myself included, know themselves and the niche that they wish to fill, be it as a specialist in an area or as a mentor to others more junior in the industry/profession. Some, again including myself, know for a fact that they do not wish to hold down a Director position. Does this equate to a lack of ambition? Finding workers who have integrity, self awareness, and who provide stability for the company is getting more and more difficult to do.

    I strive to be the best at what I do, look for opportunities for development/improvement, and often work extra hours to help out where I can. If this is not good enough for some, then I am happy to not work for those people.

  • Sonnya on 2014-06-09 12:56:55 PM

    @Ann - I also completely agree your comments. A catchy phrase but insulting term is a bad way of recognizing the mass of workers who are the bread and butter of organizations. Stars are lionized yet would not shine without the support of steady, reliable and stable workers who keep organizations afloat during times of change.

  • Eric on 2014-06-09 3:28:33 PM

    competent squatters. But the looks of it, an interesting term coined by management team who wanted more from its employees but just couldn't get "it".

  • Diana on 2014-06-10 9:36:13 AM

    With the aging workforce trying to hold on to their jobs and or trying to get a job after being let go due to "restructure"....I agree that not everyone needs or wants to go to the next level. Competent and ready to do what is required in ones position is a good and fair exchange for the pay.

  • Zakeana on 2014-06-10 11:40:23 AM

    I think that the fear for organizations in the "competent squatter" is that while they are good at the job they currently hold, their adaptability to change as the technology, and business changes may be limited. A company of such workers would quickly fall behind one that values learning, growth, change and innovation - in my opinion.

  • Saleem on 2014-06-10 2:46:21 PM

    I would agree with Ann completely. Also, unless adequate OD/OB initiatives are in place, this could also be a sign of organization's culture and/or management failure. This could be a manifestation of: lack of any training & development opportunities, lack of any engagement initiatives, lack of succession planning, poor or no performance reveiw and reward system or simply poor supervisory skills.

  • Tony Farrell on 2014-06-26 5:29:50 PM

    I am in general agreement with all the folks comments however I would add that even though most Organizational Structures (Levels) are being flattened; employees still need to be challenged. Effective Leadership should recognize that they must push workers to challenge themselves. Upward mobility may not be the answer always for many reasons as stated in some comments; however Lateral movements which demands a different and new approach of thinking and speaking to the new assignment will motivate that employee. This would create depth in the Team / Organization. Please don't overlook the power of Lateral moves.

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